I used to think that patience was just not part of my personality, but I’ve learned that patience is in fact a skill—something that can be practiced and improved. My progress has been slow and steady, but the more I work at it the easier it gets.
Don’t get me wrong, my children are still exasperating and can quickly extinguish my intentions of being patient. But I am seeing progress in myself, and it is such a good feeling! It is so satisfying to get through a trying situation and feel like I handled it with grace.
As I was thinking about this recently, I remembered when my first child was a toddler and wanted to put on her own shoes. It seemed to take forever, and it was so boring just standing there waiting for her to do something that I could do in a jiffy. When I tried to intervene, she would get very upset.
I decided to start counting to see how long it actually took her to put on her shoes, or complete whatever other task she insisted on doing herself. I rarely got to 30 before she was done! I decided I could wait 30 seconds for her to have her way, learn independence, and have my approval for a task completed.
This was a useful strategy for staying patient. “Count how long it takes” went on my list of helpful reminders. It’s important for children to do things on their own, of course, and this technique helped me get through those tiresome moments.
I’ve found other tactics for staying patient, and as I’ve practiced them they have gradually become a more natural part of my personality. Here are a few of my techniques:
Take it down a notch. When I feel myself getting worked up, I think, Take it down a notch. I visualize a peg being taken out of a high hole and moved down to a lower one. I slow down my actions and lower my voice. Tense or angry situations can be de-escalated by speaking calmly and slowly. That speech volume and pattern can influence others’ behavior, and everyone starts to calm down. This is an excellent way to stay patient with frustrating children.
Another trick I use is to pretend I’m moving in slow motion. This gives me time to think before speaking and helps me avoid doing anything I will later regret.
Sometimes in a frustrating situation I have to act like I don’t care as much as I do (about dirt tracked on the carpet or one child hitting another or a tantrum erupting) because caring will make me mad, and I’m focusing on calming down first. I think about what someone who didn’t care would look and act like. I try to be an objective observer, a bird looking down on the scene. I don’t necessarily need to deal with or solve the situation during this high-emotion time. I can do that later, when I am calmer. When people are angry and upset, blood rushes to their heart and limbs (fight or flight mode); this is not the time to problem solve or react with a punishment. Just take it down a notch.
It’s better to forget and smile than remember and hurt. Children give parents many opportunities to work on forgiveness as well as patience. If we can forgive quickly and easily, we will be happier, and the feeling in our homes will be lighter and brighter. This is a hard one for me because sometimes I want to hold on to the hurt! I want to remember; I want to tell everyone how difficult my child is and how she makes me suffer. This reaction is not helping anything; it is only hurting myself. I’m the one who carries around that dark baggage all day (or week or year!). For the little things, I realized it’s better to get over them quickly.
I had this saying taped up on my wall for over a year. It’s a hard habit to break, but I wanted to let the happiness in more quickly. I wanted to move on and be in the next moment. It could be that the next moment will bring a wonderful interaction with my child. I decided to make “forget and smile” my habit.
Now is not forever. Here’s a glorious truth about children: They will change! They will most assuredly grow and learn. At first this does not seem true, but eventually you see it happening, and then all of a sudden you want time to stop!
The saying “now is not forever” is true in many parts of our lives; our problems, our feelings, our relationships, even our health issues ebb and flow. But it’s especially true with parenting because our children are getting older every day. They are maturing and developing greater capacities to modulate their emotions and use their words. They are becoming more independent and reliable all the time. (Don’t expect too much too fast, though!) To help me keep my patience, I repeat this mantra over and over, and I try to imagine the day when I will miss the craziness of little children.
Don’t lose your cool. I know this is obvious, but I learned over time that losing my cool and giving in to anger is not worth it. For a moment, it feels so good to yell and get really angry and maybe even spank, but it does not have any positive benefits.
It’s easy to give in to negativity and harsh speaking. Sometimes my automatic response is to say mean and cruel things, but I know I must control my words. Saying those things shows that I have as little control over my actions as my child does. It is the opposite of what I want my child to do when she’s upset. I need to be an example of controlling my words and actions, even in times of strong emotion.
I also found that when I lost it with my child, her behavior would worsen, not improve. She would later use those same words and tones with her siblings. It’s a negative cycle. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to control my tongue in high-intensity situations, but I keep trying. And if I fail, I forgive myself quickly and move on. I apologize to my child, if appropriate. Sometimes I say, “Mommy felt very angry and said some unkind things. We are supposed to use our calm words, even when we’re angry, and Mommy is going to try to do better in the future.”
It’s not the end of the world when I lose my patience, but it’s something I want to always be working on.
I try to keep these tactics in mind when I feel my emotional temperature rising. When my daughter has been dawdling instead of getting ready for bed, I take it down a notch and speak calmly to her. I remind myself how good it feels to help her obey without losing my cool. When my preteen snaps at me or rolls her eyes, I decide to forget and smile and still approach her with kindness. When I find the basement a mess minutes before guests arrive, I repeat to myself that now is not forever and that someday my children will be gone and I will miss their messes. Practicing patience makes me a better mom, helps me through these situations, and brings a better atmosphere into our home.
QUESTION: What have you found helps you keep your cool during stressful parenting moments?
CHALLENGE: Pick one of these suggestions and make a plan to implement it. After a few days, evaluate its effectiveness for you. Don’t give up!
Edited by Katie Carter.
Image from Shutterstock, graphics by Anna Jenkins.